One of my latest projects came to me like most special things do; as an unexpected and complex occurrence. It turned into a full-circle marker and an excuse for life evaluation. On the surface it was simply being cast in a film called McFarland USA.
However, looking back at the many roads I've taken, choices I've made, pure coincidences, improbabilities, sacrifices, and even evidence of fate, I can't help but feel humbled by the order and disorder of things that take us to different points in our lives. This blog is about finding signs and meaning while on our creative journey – and the champions we meet along the way.
Basic back story:
I'll skip most of my personal background, but just know that I didn't live with my father until I was 8 years old. I grew up in a small village with my grandmother in Mexico and my mother was not in my life. She started a new family when my father decided that his search for the American dream was more important. Migration has a history of separating families in various ways. How does one look back at something like that and not wonder about alternatives? Eventually my grandmother and I ended up in the U.S. I lost the opportunity of growing up with my mother but I did grow up with the most amazing person I have ever met. Mi Abuelita!
I'm always wondering about the chain reaction of events caused by so many choices made by me and others. But, if you find yourself in a present that defines you, it includes acceptance of everything in the past.
Bitter taste of failure:
I had a missed opportunity before discovering my creative self when I started playing the trombone in middle school. I didn't think I would ever be good at it and I was surprised when my music teacher awarded me the school's brand new trombone. I'll never forget it and all its brass beauty and brand new contoured case. With my instrument in hand I felt like a prodigy walking home. Unfortunately, my father made me give it up. He thought it was a waste of time and noise we did not need at home. He told me that instead I was to take the bus after school to the restaurant where worked... to wash dishes.
Aftertaste of Disappointment:
I will never forget when I had to tell my music teacher that I was quitting music. I turned in my new instrument and walked out of the room feeling like I had let down a person who was believing in my ability more than I did; More than my own father did. I never learned to play music and it is still one of those frustrated failures in my life and I know it is related to this- but I blame only myself because I have had plenty of time to correct this. It's on me that I have had a guitar collecting dust for many years and that I haven't gained enough confidence in music, dance, and singing.
By the time I started high school, I had gone from a chubby kid to one who made the basketball team. I seemed to be looking for some order in my life and the sport was filling that need. However, one day I had an accident at the restaurant and I almost lost my left index finger. I tried out again a year later only to end up with a new coach that I could describe with harsh words but choose to just say he was “No Bueno”! I left the team, but this time I remember walking away from that man with my head held high as he palmed my folded uniform, perhaps feeling victorious. After I left the team, at least two other players of color quit.
Navigating to Discovery:
Creatives usually have a moment of discovery that changes their lives forever. When did you discover your creative self? How did you first hear your true voice? It did not have to be a big bang but perhaps it was a small spark that set you on your creative path. After the school newspaper kept me from publishing a story based on the end of my hoop dreams, I decided to forget journalism and I opted for … drum roll... creative writing! I ended up in Ms. Cincy Milwe's poetry class. That is when I began to put words into patterns that had special meaning to me. She was the first person to show me that my inner dialogue was worth sharing. A couple of weeks ago I re-connected with this amazing educator who is still making a difference in the lives of students. She said she remembered me as “...an inspirational little boy...driven to be your best self”
I hardly felt like a boy during those difficult years and something about hearing her say that made me cry for that young boy wanting to be his best. Nobody at school knew that I was no longer living with my father and shared a living room with a day laborer at my cousin's apartment. Sometimes we wonder what we would say to our younger self and since that is impossible, I am glad to know that others were there with encouraging words for me.
(Food for thought: Sharing our wisdom and experience with others who are starting their journey is a way to give them a head start on their future)
My voice was developed further when I ventured into an acting class because I wanted to “learn to write for actors”. It was there that I met another young man who would become like my brother. He showed me empathy and kept me from walking out of the theater before my first monologue. Here is an image of me in my first play:
It was here that I met Dr. Frank X. Ford... “Doc”, our director, a person who showed me that there was more to me than I had ever imagined. He taught me his rules of success and to always prepare, to create, to dig into meaning, to express on stage what was on a page, to break down lines into “beats/bits” and then challenged me to expect more from myself. He also bought me an ice cream cake for my 18th birthday. I never forgot that gesture.
When things come full circle you can move around and at any point you are fully connected to everything else. Saying this immediately makes me think about theories of bending space and time on to itself! Sometimes the stars do seem to align just right for things to happen and we end up with “Signs”. I've noticed a great pattern of signs in my life. How about you?
A Few Coincidences & Signs:
- Thanks to my future best friend's encouragement I took the stage for the first time in high school.
- My grandmother was very ill at one point and I helped bring her back to health. I remember having to take her to a nearby hospital. Because of this experience, I decided to focus on something that gave meaning to my life and I returned to study Theater.
- Years later when I decided to pursue professional acting, my first TV job was playing a Doctor. The set was a real hospital that had been closed. They walked me to a specific bed in the ICU and it was the same exact one I had taken my grandmother to many years before. On that shoot I also met an actress who would later invite me to a house party...
- When I got a callback for a TV episode that would make me a SAG union actor, I also got a call that my grandmother was hospitalized. The day I got the job I was loosing her and just after midnight she died... it was also my best friend's birthday - August.
- Almost a year to the day after my grandmother passed away I went to the party I mentioned above and met a new friend...who is now my fiancee. At that same time I also shot my first major studio film. Blessings I attribute to my grandmother.
Back to the full circle... let me return to McFarland USA....
Just a reminder that I will be having Omar on as my guest for my On Stage With RB broadcast tomorrow, Tuesday March 31, 2014 at 1pm PDT. This is a FREE online webinar available exclusively for Stage 32 members, you don't want to miss it! Spots are limited, click here to register!
As always, Omar is available for questions and remarks in the Comments section below...